Initial hydrologic and geomorphic response following a wildfire in the Colorado front range

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
By:  and 



A wildfire in May 1996 burned 4690 hectares in two watersheds forested by ponderosa pine and Douglas fir in a steep, mountainous landscape with a summer, convective thunderstorm precipitation regime. The wildfire lowered the erosion threshold in the watersheds, and consequently amplified the subsequent erosional response to shorter time interval episodic rainfall and created both erosional and depositional features in a complex pattern throughout the watersheds. The initial response during the first four years was an increase in runoff and erosion rates followed by decreases toward pre-fire rates. The maximum unit-area peak discharge was 24 m3 s-1 km-2 for a rainstorm in 1996 with a rain intensity of 90 mm h-1. Recovery to pre-fire conditions seems to have occurred by 2000 because for a maximum 30-min rainfall intensity of 50 mm h-1, the unit-area peak discharge in 1997 was 6.6 m3 s-1 km-2, while in 2000 a similar intensity produced only 0.11 m3 s-1 km-2. Rill erosion accounted for 6 per cent, interrill erosion for 14 per cent, and drainage erosion for 80 per cent of the initial erosion in 1996. This represents about a 200-fold increase in erosion rates on hillslopes which had a recovery or relaxation time of about three years. About 67 per cent of the initially eroded sediment is still stored in the watersheds after four years with an estimated residence time greater than 300 years. This residence time is much greater than the fire recurrence interval so erosional and depositional features may become legacies from the wildfire and may affect landscape evolution by acting as a new set of initial conditions for subsequent wildfire and flood sequences. 

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Initial hydrologic and geomorphic response following a wildfire in the Colorado front range
Series title Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
DOI 10.1002/esp.253
Volume 26
Issue 10
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch, WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description 22 p.
First page 1049
Last page 1070
Country United States
State Colorado
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